Archive for the ‘English - general issues’ Category

Is MUET the right assessment?

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

THE dust has yet to settle on the Education Ministry directive instructing English option teachers to sit for the Malaysian University English Test (MUET).

Teachers, who are key to the successful implementation of the programmes aimed at improving English, are unhappy with the directive. And, they’ve taken to social media to question the rationale of it.

A secondary English option teacher who only wanted to be known as Chan, thinks it is not the “right instrument” to gauge the proficiency and ability of teachers to teach the language.

Having taught for two decades, she says it impractical and unnecessary, to have over 20,000 English teachers sit for the exam by December.

“Allow us to attend conferences and conventions so English teachers can pool our resources and help each other.

“Even a mentor-mentee programme within the school, helps. This MUET idea is just a knee jerk reaction that has no long term benefit,” she says.

The Selangor teacher questions the need for English teachers to sit for the test, instead of going through upgrading exercises such as attending conferences and seminars.

Such exercises, she says, are more beneficial than tests. What happens to teachers who don’t do well in the test, she asks.


“If teachers who do not fare well are removed, who will take over the lessons? And if they are not removed, then why bother testing?

“Will there be interventions to help teachers pass?”

She feels the move will discourage teachers, who are already bogged down with many changes in the system, from teaching English.

While it is unlikely that the ministry will budge, a meeting with stakeholders was held to discuss improving the quality of English language education in the country.

Education director-­general Datuk Dr Amin Senin says the ministry was willing to listen to the voices of teachers.

A closed-door meeting with the National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP), Sarawak Teachers’ Union and the Sabah Government Teachers Union (KGKS) was held in Putrajaya last week.

“We received constructive feedback and input from the unions.

“Various aspects were discussed during the meeting, including the rationale behind the implementation of the English Language Education Reform in Malaysia: The Roadmap 2015-2025,” says Dr Amin.

Abdul Basith doesn’t mind taking proficiency tests to gauge his competency in the language, but MUET just “isn’t good enough”.

The English option teacher from a primary school in Selangor says qualified English teachers have degrees, masters and some even a PhD in the language.

“Why should they revert to MUET?

“I wouldn’t mind other international standard tests but (with MUET), even the competency of invigilators and examiners are questionable.

“Who are they? Are they qualified?” he asks.

He, however, supports the need to gauge the proficiency of language teachers.

“I believe in always upgrading oneself but please use another assessment test, not MUET.”

Faridah Kassim from SMK Aman Jaya also disagrees with the directive. She teaches English to Forms Four and Five.

Instead of theoretically testing a teacher’s proficiency and competency, she says practical courses and training should instead be provided.

“MUET is a pre-university test. Many English option teachers have much higher qualifications. It’s not a good gauge of proficiency.

“Making us sit for MUET feels like a downgrade.”

According to the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (Melta), proficiency is important, but it’s not the sole indicator of a teacher’s competency.

There are limitations to using standardised tests to assess English language teachers, Melta says, such as MUET not aligning to the objective of the ministry’s initiative to test teachers’ competency.

“MUET is a four-skill assessment designed for varsity entry and to assess students’ ability to manage academic requirements in higher education.

“The test is neither focused on teaching, nor on context and language English teachers are likely to use.

“So how can the test results be mapped against the language competency needs of English teachers?”.

There are other existing assessments designed to assess competency, the association says in a statement.

“Valid and reliable means to determine and assess an English teacher’s proficiency are a must if outcomes are to be accepted.

“Sustainable competency among English language teachers can be achieved if they are provided the appropriate environment and support programmes for their development and growth.”

Melta, however, commends the ministry for its initiatives to upgrade the quality of teaching English in the country.

“Melta is prepared to support the ministry in the move to improve English proficiency among students.”

Universiti Malaya Faculty of Education department of language and literacy education senior lecturer Dr Zuwati Hasim questioned whether it’s necessary for English language teachers to sit for the MUET, and the rationale behind it.

She says instructing teachers to sit for a test because of the poor performance among students in speaking the language, is not the best move.

“All English option teachers were screened and interviewed in order to be accepted into a teacher

training programme or into a Bachelor’s Degree of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).

“By right, all English option teachers (would) have sat for at least one proficiency test, be it MUET or IELTS.

“Some teachers feel it is a downgrade and an act of distrust.

“We need to tackle the real issue, find the root cause. Are teachers solely to be blamed for the lack of English language proficiency among learners?” she asks.

Dr Zuwati says for an assessment to be valid, it should achieve what it was designed to measure.

MUET is used as an entry requirement into local universities, so how can it be a good gauge of English option teachers’ proficiency, she asks.

“Instead, the ministry can invest more on professional development training for teachers which should include pedagogical training as well as leadership training.”

NUTP secretary-general Harry Tan says while the union is engaging with the ministry on matters concerning MUET, it is also in discussion with the ministry on how to improve students’ competency in the English language.

“We have requested the ministry to bring in more stakeholders such as the Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, the minister’s advisors on teaching of English, examination divisions, conducting teacher training and reviewing the curriculum.

“It’s only then we believe we can contribute effectively towards the goals as set out in the English Language Education Reform in Malaysia: The Roadmap 2015-2025,” he says.

While the uproar has yet to settle down for English option teachers, even non English option teachers find themselves in a limbo.

Education Ministry deputy director-general Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim told StarEdu it is not compulsory for non English language option teachers to sit for the test.

However, early last month, Deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching says these teachers will have to sit for it to allow them to teach the language and to upskill themselves.

By Sandhya Menon
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Learning English under the trees works wonders for Orang Asli children

Sunday, May 26th, 2019
When Samuel Isaiah, a teacher at SK Runchang, here noticed a dip in classroom attendance early this year, he decided to do something unique that would get the Orang Asli students to come back and attend lessons. Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of PADU

PEKAN: When Samuel Isaiah, a teacher at SK Runchang, here noticed a dip in classroom attendance early this year, he decided to do something unique that would get the Orang Asli students to come back and attend lessons.

The 32-year-old English teacher introduced “Sekolah Pokok”, where he goes into the Runchang Orang Asli settlement twice a week after school hours and conducts English lessons under the trees.

Samuel, who was posted to the school in 2012, said he picked two different locations in the settlement, where he would conduct English lessons every Wednesday and Friday for the Jakun tribe children.

“In the beginning, about 10 children attended the Sekolah Pokok. Now I have more than 50 pupils aged between six and 14 years old.

Even some who had previously quit secondary school are now looking forward to attending lessons under the trees.

The environment, which is close to their nature has probably kept them eager to attend lessons.

“I make sure lessons are fun as they learn English through unique methods.

They use tablets with headphones, group activities, singing sessions, view pre-recorded videos and also use the ukulele.

Some who had earlier quit school (SK Runchang) have returned to the classroom,” he said when met.

The former Universiti Utara Malaysia and Teachers Training Institute (Penang campus) graduate said he decided to bring the classroom to the children and help create a learning environment in which the children felt comfortable and secure.

Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of PADU

“The trees provide shade and the pupils sit on canvass laid on the ground.

We paste some learning materials on the trees nearby to help create a classroom-like atmosphere, Whatever has been taught in the classroom will be shared with the children under the trees.

“None of the pupils are complaining as they are more focused on the lessons. I remember after receiving the approval from the school (to hold the classes under the trees), I met some of the parents and told them about Sekolah Pokok. They were happy to cooperate,” said Samuel who teaches Standard Five and Six classes.

The third of five siblings, Samuel said when he arrived at the school, his main aim was to make sure the Orang Asli pupils learnt and spoke English.

“I blended with their style and expressed my creativity. We sang songs, played games and musical instruments.

I emphasised English as a language first, subject second, and following that, many started to look forward to speaking English. I treated the children like my family and helped to build their confidence.

Pic by NSTP/Courtesy of PADU

“Since 2013, the passing rate for the English subject at the school is around 80 per cent, compared to 30 per cent previously.

We have produced pupils who scored A’s in their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah.

English is now not alien to the pupils here as many can speak the language. Some parents come to me saying that they are impressed to hear their children sing English songs at home. This certainly inspires me,” he added.

By T.N.Alagesh.

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Students’ first ‘star’ experience

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019
(From left) Ahmad Kamal Isyraf and Muhammad Reza checking out the different sections in The Star newspaper and its NiE pullout.

(From left) Ahmad Kamal Isyraf and Muhammad Reza checking out the different sections in The Star newspaper and its NiE pullout.

THE English language was their least favourite subject and The Star newspaper was a resource they had near-zero experience in using.

So when the group of Form Two students were asked to hold copies of The Star and look for nouns, verbs and adjectives in it, they appeared perplexed and fumbled for answers.

But as they grew more confident, a few of the students opened up and became more engaged in the activity.

That marked the students’ first encounter with using the newspaper to learn the English language. It took place at a recent talk held in SMK Seri Indah in Seri Kembangan, Selangor, where The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) assistant manager Rowena Chua was invited as a speaker.

Ahmad Kamal Isyraf Ahmad Kamaruza was among the students who did not have any prior experience of, or interest in, learning through the newspaper.

He conceded to learning the English language only in the classroom and not beyond his teacher and the textbook.

“I have more interest in reading the newspaper after this, especially the travel section (in StarLifestyle). As a student, I have a limited allowance but from now on, I will read it more often in the school library if I can find a copy of it there,” he said.

“I will also make an effort to speak to my mum in English. She usually speaks English to her workers and I think I can learn from her and improve my speaking skills,” he added.

His friend Muhammad Reza Tanti shared that he had never thought of using the newspaper as a way of learning the English language.

“People around me don’t read English newspapers. I only read the news online occasionally. But I learn English from my teacher, and through movies and YouTube videos,” he said.

Having been introduced to the various sections in The Star at the talk, Muhammad Reza said what attracted him the most was StarSports. A Manchester City fan, he looks forward to reading more sports news in The Star.

Apart from the students, the English language teachers of SMK Seri Indah found inspiration in using the newspaper not only as a reading material, but also as a classroom resource.

“I’ve learned that we as teachers can use the newspaper in teaching grammar, reading comprehension, writing and literature,” said SMK Seri Indah English panel head Marhafiza Mahmud.

She believed that the newspaper would renew the students’ interest as it offers a novel way of learning the English language.

“It is something out of their routine and they can also get away from the exam format for a while. They will find it interesting because the content is fresh, up-to-date, and based on real life and what’s trending,” she added.

Another teacher Jeewa Malar Jaganathan found the talk to be informative as it helped both teachers and students to familiarise themselves with the newspaper and gain tips on using it as a resource.

“Reading the news enables students to improve their vocabulary and write effectively on topics related to current affairs, society, places, the environment, sports and technology, among others,” she said.

“I will use the newspaper in the classroom to help students identify the main points and supporting details in a writing activity,” she added.

Event coordinator Rose Aliza Sutrisno hoped that through the talk, the students and teachers would be motivated to make full use of The Star and its NiE pullout in enhancing their English language learning and teaching.

“Not only does the newspaper offer a lot of information that can be applied to any subject taught in school, but its NiE pullout can also help students realise how exciting learning English can be,” said Rose, a teacher from SMK Seri Serdang who is currently undertaking the National Professional Qualification for Educational Leaders (NPQEL 2.0) course in SMK Seri Indah.

Also present as a speaker at the event was SMK Seri Serdang English panel head Kalpana Jayavalan.

The Star newspaper, together with its NiE educational pullout for primary and secondary school students, is available for school subscriptions at a discounted rate.

Published on Wednesdays, NiE is a 12-page syllabus-based English language resource endorsed by the Education Ministry.

It includes a writing platform for teenagers to contribute short stories, as well as tips and strategies for students taking the Malaysian University English Test (MUET).

by Rowena Chua

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Helping rural primary school kids score in English

Monday, April 29th, 2019
Students of SK Cherating who participated in the UPSR English workshop in a group photo with their teachers and workshop facilitator. – NSTP/Rayyan Rafidi

CHERATING: Ninety pupils from SK Cherating, Pahang had a head start in preparing for their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) English examination at a two-day workshop conducted by the New Straits Times Press Education Vertical department as part of the Media Prima Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme last weekend.

The participants underwent intensive training to improve their grammar as well as gather the proper techniques to answer the UPSR English Paper 1 and Paper 2 questions.

One of the pupils, Maisara Md Raya, 12, said the module provided in the workshop was comprehensive as it also included a revision of grammar which is important for UPSR Paper 1 in particular.

SK Cherating students pose for a group photo with the instructor, Sri Wahyuni Mohamed Kham (centre, back row). – NSTP/Rayyan Rafidi

“I enjoyed learning with the facilitator as she was clear in her explanation and I could ask her questions if I didn’t understand anything,” said the school deputy head prefect.

Another pupil, Muhammad Syahrul Ikhwan Muhammad Syahir, 12 said: “I feel that aside from learning the techniques to answer UPSR questions, I also improved my communication skills. There were a lot of group activities so the workshop also taught us about teamwork.”

“What I like about this workshop is how friendly the instructor was,” said Nur Natasya Alia Zulkifli, 12, who harbours hopes to be a doctor one day.

On the second day, pupils attempted exercises for Paper 1 Section B on social expressions before they were guided on how to answer the writing part of the English exam paper, which is under Paper 2 Sections B and C.

“I am not very good at answering Paper 2 Section B and C so I am glad that we were given a lot of exercises to do. The techniques I learned were very helpful. The two days were very enjoyable,” Nur Natasya added.

A total of 90 students participated in the UPSR workshop – NSTP/Rayyan Rafidi

SK Cherating English teacher Aliza Abd Shukor, expressed her gratitude for the workshop.

“For many students in rural schools, English is foreign to them so they tend to lose focus quickly in class. But the facilitator for this workshop was great at connecting with the children and capturing their interest.”

“I feel that this workshop has successfully focused on grammar and vocabulary, the two important aspects of the language in which most of the students are lacking,” said Aliza.

By Rayyan Rafidi.

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Upskilling with English

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019
(File pix) A communicative approach in learning English will help students develop skills such as teamwork, problem-solving, negotiating and conflict resolution. Courtesy Photo

WITH the rising demand for soft skills in the working world, questions abound whether being competent in English is still key for graduates to gain employment.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report last year suggested that by 2020, complex problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity, good people management and emotional intelligence will become very important traits in the workplace.

Having sophisticated language skills provides the foundation to communicate ideas, thoughts and opinions effectively.

British Council Malaysia director Sarah Deverall said proficiency in English has never been more important to gain employment and get ahead in the digital age.

And companies based in Malaysia and abroad are increasingly operating across geographical boundaries, so the ability to communicate in English with internal and external stakeholders is crucial.

“While many people nowadays are competent in using and understanding English, skills such as having an advanced range of grammatical structures, natural pronunciation, or awareness of appropriacy and register can make a huge difference in how effective they communicate in English,” she said.

In its latest Job Outlook report released in January, online job portal stated that English proficiency in Malaysia continues to be of concern, with 64 per cent of employers saying that a poor command of the language was the second reason behind the unemployment of fresh graduates. Malaysia country manager Gan Bock Herm said communication skills are among the top five valued by employers, and it is true that by improving those skills and having a good command of English, it would increase a jobseeker’s employability, especially for fresh graduates.

“Besides communication skills, there are other important traits that are crucial in the competitive job market.

“They include good problem-solving skills, the ability to manage stress and work independently, and the willingness to learn, embrace new changes and adapt accordingly,” he said.


“Learning a language can help with the development of soft skills, particularly when using the communicative learning approach, where students can develop teamwork, problem-solving capabilities, and the art of negotiating and conflict resolution,” said Deverall.

As an example, she said during speaking activities in British Council training programmes for scholarship recipients bound for studies at universities abroad, the students are given the opportunity to collaborate with their groupmates to practise turn-taking and negotiating.

The English classes may also involve discussions or essay-writing activities, where students are asked about their opinion on certain topics and to support it with evidence or ideas.

“This kind of activity allows students to develop their critical-thinking skills and confidence.

Alternatively, they may be asked to suggest a solution to an issue, which allows them to polish their problem-solving skills,” said Deverall.

In graduate training programmes, participants learn to make small talk with future bosses and colleagues, express ideas clearly in meetings, make presentations to clients or the management, and write structured, clear and concise emails, reports and proposals.

But English language courses are often short and may not be effective for university students to master the skills needed to survive the working world.

How can universities help students hone their English language skills, besides developing soft skills in an effective and lasting manner?


In Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), students are required to partake in English proficiency courses or activities under the university’s Putra English Language Experience (ELEx) programme —a learning package conducted by the Centre for the Advancement of Language Competence (CALC) — every semester.

The experience can be both beneficial and enriching.

They include the English Language Proficiency (LPE) courses, Certificate in English Language (CEL) courses and Language Activities without credit (LAX) assignments.

The number of courses students have to take depends on their Malaysian University English Test (Muet) results, with those at a higher band getting more exemptions.

Muet gauges the undergraduates’ level of English in listening, speaking, reading and writing. Its proficiency band ranges between one and six, with the latter indicating the highest competency.

Nurul Farah Hana Shafrizal and Amirul Hakim Abdul Rahman, 20, both first-year Bachelor of Computer Science (Multimedia) students, have some things in common.

Their Muet score of Band 2 puts them as limited users of the language.

While both are comfortable in listening and reading, they are rather challenged when it comes to speaking and writing as they often shy away from conversing in English.

However, that is rapidly changing when they took up a course on reading for academic purposes. The course is one of five credited LPE courses conducted by CALC.

It not only taught Nurul Farah Hana and Amirul Hakim the skills to pen their words, but also to communicate confidently.

“The course has improved my comprehension through reading and analysing information and contents.

“And because the class requires me to think critically and share my opinion with fellow classmates of different capabilities, I now feel confident to speak in public. Not to mention, I made new friends, too,” said Amirul Hakim.

“For me, I learned that reading is really important as it can build my vocabulary and help me to understand nuances. With that, I feel comfortable speaking in English when interacting with my foreign coursemates,” said Nurul Farah Hana.

Alani Wahi Mohd Wahi, 21, a second-year Bachelor of Environmental Science and Technology student who scored Band 5—which means she has a very good command of English — discovered her creative side when she took up an LPE creative writing course.

Being used to cut-and-dry scientific writing, she took the opportunity to explore different ways of expressing her emotions and thoughts.

“In class, I went through the process of writing creative English pieces, such as poems and short stories.

“ To write a nicely structured poem, words need to fit in a certain way, thus requiring us to learn new vocabularies along the way.

“And, we were required to explain our poems and short stories in class. This is when our communication skills and self-confidence stepped up.

“We also analysed short stories and poems, and this helped to enhance our creativity and crititical thinking skills,” said Alani Wahi.

Preparation for the working world is what third-year Bachelor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Nufail Izzfarhan Rozley, 22, seeks from the CEL course on communication professional development.

Even though he scored Band 4 in Muet, Nufail Izzfarhan still finds a lot of room for improvemennt in his command of the language.

“I will soon go for internship and companies often use English as a medium of communication. This course has taught me to write a resume and conduct myself in interviews. I also learned about business communication.

“This has made me confident. In fact, I recently attended an interview for an internship placement and I think I didn’t do so badly,” he said.

Using English outside the classroom in an interactive and fun way is not something every student gets to experience.

But for Izzah Islah Muslim, 21, a second year Bachelor of Business Administration student, she experienced this in an LAX assignment called “Get Groomed”, which saw her working with five of her peers to produce three instruction videos on grooming.

For a student with a Band 3 in Muet, the activity pushed her out of her shell to make presentations and take a leadership role.

“My groupmates and I were from different faculties with different levels of English proficiency. We had to organise meetings and group discussions, which must be conducted in English, and record them to show our instructor.

“It took the pressure out of having to speak and write in English, and it helped me to make new friends,” said Izzah Islah.

Her coursemate, Hasbatrisyia Alya Mohd Hedzir, 21, had the best opportunity to interact with native-speakers when she joined a two-week outbound mobility programme to the University of Wollongong near Sydney, Australia.

Already proven to be fluent in English with a Band 5 in Muet, Hasbatrisyia Alya said it was an out-of-the-norm experience.

She joined English language classes at the host university, stayed with a foster family and explored her surroundings by visiting tourist attractions.

“I learned so much more than English itself. I learnt a lot about the country’s culture, people’s attitude and history.

“I gained confidence by communicating with the locals, learned to adapt to new surroundings and to think on my feet. Overall, not only did I improve my English, but I also got to see another part of the world.”


According to CALC director Associate Professor Dr Arshad Abd Samad, Putra ELEx was approved by the university senate in 2013 and implemented the same year.

A major goal in developing the package is to address industry feedback of graduates’ weakness in the English language, especially in conversations.

“While the LPE courses focus on acquiring important language skills, the CEL courses emphasise the need in occupational situations. Finally, the LAX assignments are meant to encourage students to speak in English and raise their confidence in using the language.

“It is organised in small groups without the presence of lecturers, and the students are required to discuss in English to complete their tasks.”

As a whole, Arshad said the ELEx provides language-related knowledge and skills needed for academic studies through the LPE courses; skills and abilities needed for the workplace through the CEL courses; and, opportunities to develop confidence in using the language through LAX activities.

ELEx, Arshad said, is intended to hone the students’ English language skills and abilities. It is to make them more confident in using the language so they do not become tongue-tied. Student are encouraged to speak naturally and not feel awkward.

“Not all our students have the opportunity to use the English language in natural and authentic circumstances,” he said.

Arshad believes that language skills remain crucial even when the emphasis seemed to have moved to other soft skills, such as creativity and critical thinking.

“It is through good language ability that the employee will be able to convey ideas more clearly. Hence, even if an employee has ideas and is highly creative, he or she will not be able to express those ideas clearly without a good command of the language.

“Secondly, being proficient in a second language allows one to view relevant issues from a different perspective.

“The more ways we can perceive an issue, the better we can assess the situation and make appropriate decisions.”


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Giving pupils a language boost

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019
Year Six pupils of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3 having fun during a class session with the Step Up pullout.

Year Six pupils of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3 having fun during a class session with the Step Up pullout.

SOMETIMES, only a little nudge is needed to see resourcefulness and creativity in children shine.

With a dustpan handle as his walking stick, a Year Six pupil of SK Bandar Sri Damansara 3, Kuala Lumpur, fitted perfectly into his role in a short skit as a blind man trying to cross the road. Meanwhile, his partner demonstrated a courtesy when one encounters such a situation. The scenario was required during an English class activity supplemented by Step Up, an education pullout by The Star.

Hands shot up when English teacher Gomathi Gopalakrishnan asked class year Six Mutiara: “Okay, who wants to be the old lady for the next role play?”

Many of the pupils were vying to have a shot at the activity. Gomathi said that she introduced Step Up last year.

“When I say that I am using Step Up, there is a positive reaction from them. They find it fun because it is colourful and a fun way to learn English.

“I think that having a love for English is very important. This way, they are continuously motivated to learn for themselves. Then when they go for higher education, they will have basic English skills and be confident when learning,” she said.

Step Up is a colourful 24-page workbook-cum-activity pullout designed to help pupils in Years Four, Five and Six prepare for the UPSR examination.

The teacher said the number of As for writing and comprehension increased from the previous year.

“At the moment, Step Up is compulsory for all Year Six pupils. We want to include all Year Five pupils as well. It helps pupils master reading and writing. It adds greatly to their vocabulary and they, basically, become more knowledgeable.”

Language is usually not the only element taught during English lessons. This particular issue of the pullout focused on the themes: Time is Precious, Good Manners and Making Decisions, which are found in the national syllabus for Years Four, Five and Six, respectively.

Year Six pupil Muhammad Iskandar Affendy said that he learnt about manners and that time should not be wasted from this issue of Step Up.

“Step Up is fun to do, and the mini dictionary feature helps with my spelling. I like reading the short stories. I sometimes read the newspaper that comes with Step Up,” he said.

Understanding the importance of English, he said that knowing the language enables him to communicate with a lot of people. “A lot of information on the Internet is also in English.”

Year Six pupil Vishant Permal said: “Step Up is fun and interesting. We learn how to express our feelings to people.”

“Meanings to difficult words are given in the mini dictionary and this helps me learn new words. Even when I play online games, the instructions are in English,” he said.

Classmate Nasreen Mohd Naveed enjoys Step Up as it includes fun riddles and puzzles.

“I love reading. With English, I can read many books,” she said.

“I will need English in tertiary education. Being able to communicate in English also helps me feel more confident.”

Gomathi said that having the newspaper cultivates a reading habit because they are provided with materials to read. “So it is very good that the newspaper comes with Step Up.”

“Children these days seem to lack general knowledge. So when they read the newspaper, they know what is happening in and out of the country.

The price is reasonable – plus there is a free gift.”

School headmistress Rozaini Md Zain felt that the content in Step Up helps pupils be more creative. “We want to expand the pupils’ minds beyond what is available in the textbook, and Step Up helps pupils become better at writing.”

“The children like it very

much. Since it comes with the newspaper, it indirectly encourages reading and adds to their knowledge.

“Teachers, too, like using it. Step Up makes the teacher’s work easier, for sure. They don’t have to source for materials – it’s all there. The teachers can also adapt the activities to suit their classes.

“I would recommend this pullout to other teachers.”

Step Up features Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese translation of difficult English words. The version with the Bahasa Malaysia translation is published on alternate Tuesdays while the version with Chinese translation comes out on alternate Thursdays.

The syllabus-based pullout is endorsed by the Education Ministry.

By Emily Chan
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Stepping up English usage

Friday, January 25th, 2019
Excited to learn: Year Five pupils of SK Sungai Buloh getting a sneak peek at the first issue of ‘Step Up’ 2019. With them are Nurhafizah (far right) and Dansen (far left).

Excited to learn: Year Five pupils of SK Sungai Buloh getting a sneak peek at the first issue of ‘Step Up’ 2019. With them are Nurhafizah (far right) and Dansen (far left).

PETALING JAYA: In environments where English is not the main mode of communication, learning the language is mostly confined to English lessons in school.

SK Sungai Buloh, Selangor, sandwiched between urban and non-urban communities, has a majority of pupils from Malay-speaking families.

Its headmaster Ab Halid Zakaria understands that language learning extends beyond classroom walls.

“When learning English, you cannot just rely on lessons in school.

“The culture of speaking English has to start from home. We felt that this culture is lacking.”

With this in mind, the school saw the Step Up education pullout by The Star as a good fit to bridge this learning gap.

The pullout, which comes with a copy of The Star newspaper, is a 24-page workbook and activity book for pupils in Years Four, Five and Six.

“So, when pupils take an English daily home, parents would realise that this language learning is not just confined to schools,” he added.

At SK Sungai Buloh, the school’s administration believes that a three-way relationship between pupils, teachers and parents is an important aspect in encouraging academic growth at the school.

Ab Halid noted: “When we introduced the Step Up pullout to some parents at a recent meeting, they felt that the package was worth their money as it comes with attractive free gifts.

“We are planning for all students to opt for the free grammar book so that teachers will be able to use them in class.

“Last year, all Year Six pupils subscribed to Step Up.

“Seeing the benefits from using the pullouts, we made it compulsory for pupils in Years Four, Five and Six to subscribe this year.

“The pullout is suitable for our pupils – the exercises are neither too difficult nor are they too easy.

“They help our pupils master grammar,” he added.

Agreeing, English panel head Nurhafizah Yaacob said: “One positive impact that I can see is that more pupils are actually speaking English at school.

“At home, most pupils have limited English language materials to read.

“So when they bring an English newspaper back home, their parents and siblings can also use it.

“It really makes a difference.”

Nurhafizah said parents had their doubts about subscribing to Step Up last year.

“This year, even though they have two children attending SK Sungai Buloh, parents prefer that each child own a copy of the Step Up pullout.”

This shift has resulted in SK Sungai Buloh increasing its subscription for its pupils from 110 copies in 2018 to 312 copies this year.

“We love Step Up because the answers are at the back, so if parents can’t help with grammar, they can always check the answers.

“It is good as a Self Assessment Learning (SAL) tool.”

The lucky pupils in class Year Five Sinar had a sneak peek at the first issue of Step Up for 2019, which rolls out tomorrow.

Nurhafizah and English teacher Sean Dansen conducted a lesson using the pullout that had pupils clamouring to give their answers.

Step Up features Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese translations of difficult English words.

The version with the Bahasa Malaysia translation is published on alternate Tuesdays while the version with Chinese translation comes out on alternate Thursdays.

The colourful syllabus-based content tackles themes set by the Education Ministry and helps prepare pupils for the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR).

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Dr M: Master English, don’t politicise it.

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

KUALA NERUS (Bernama): Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) has reminded educators to continue playing their roles to ensure Malaysians master the English language.

The Prime Minister said the role of teachers is important to shape and determine future Malaysians, and therefore the government is giving serious focus to education.

“Do not let it become a political issue and deny people the opportunity to master knowledge due to the political interests of certain groups.

“We need to master English and I hope educators would give priority to this as it is the language of science and technology,” he said at a gathering with educators in Terengganu here Monday.

Also present were his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Mentri Besar Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, as well as 1,000 educators.

The event was the first programme of Dr Mahathir’s one-day working visit to Terengganu. It is also the first visit by the Prime Minister after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th general election last May.

Dr Mahathir said the government would be introducing an education system directed more towards programmes to shape Malaysians to be more competent and able to advance Malaysia more rapidly than before.

“Our education policy is not only to impart knowledge but also to form good characters.

“For this, we need to also focus on our religious teachings … about the values of life needed to be held in Islam. I hope all teachers will also look into the matter.

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Creating immersive environment for learning English

Sunday, December 30th, 2018
(File pix) Students visiting the Brave-Hearts programme at Pusanika, UKM, can try on and walk around in various costumes from different eras in England. Pix by NSTP/Saddam Yusoff

AS first-year students of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) arrived at the Brave-Hearts site in UKM’s Pusanika, they were greeted with sights, sounds and smells that sent their senses reeling.

An air of excitement surrounded the booths offering information and activities by 14 faculties involved in the programme under Citra UKM centre.

Brave-Hearts, which stands for “Bringing Real Activities Via English Hands-on Experience and Rewarding Tasks”, is an out-ofclass English enhancement programme for UKM students.

Now in its fourth year, the programme is aimed at creating interest among students with lower English proficiency levels to learn the language, and boost their confidence to converse in the language.

At one of the booths, Aishah Mutmainnah Khairul Annuar, 21, is seen encouraging visitors to try out costumes from different English eras. The Liberal Studies student herself was clad in a dark velvet Victorian-era gown, complete with a beaded headpiece that she had sewn all night.

Aishah said introducing clothes worn by people in England, such as tunics, gowns, ruffled collars, lace veils and corsets, could help to spark interest among undergraduates to learn words related to clothes.

“Personally, I am excited to be wearing this Victorian-era dress. Through the pieces of clothing we have, students like me can learn new words associated with clothing,” said Aishah.

Similarly, other booths offered activities that focused on awareness of language functions and vocabulary building, such as Readers’ Theatre, a Snake-and-Ladder game and a mock Moot Court, where all of the activities were conducted in English.

At the mock “court” booth, students take up roles as judge, defendant, public prosecutor, accused, bailiff and so on, to act out a scene in the courtroom using a script prepared. The booth was a hit as group after group of students signed up to give it a try.

To make this year’s programme even better, Citra UKM’s deputy director (Communication), Professor Madya Dr Zarina Othman said all 14 faculties under the centre were roped in to participate and set up booths.

“Brave-Hearts 2018 features the involvement of faculties to showcase their disciplines through communicative activities in English,” she said.

“This will be an opportunity for students from different disciplines to realise the role of English and communication in their respective fields.

“This initiative creates the ambience needed to boost students’ mastery of English and their motivation and confidence to use English.”

Zarina said every learner was unique and successful language learning depended on how students felt about a language.

“Less positive feelings, like lack of motivation, low self-confidence and anxiety, are contributing factors that could hamper success in language learning,” she said.

“The affective factor is one aspect that needs to be addressed and enhanced outside formal learning environment where language practitioners are more able to work on providing students with a conducive environment in line with the concept of immersion.”

UKM deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International affairs) Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Marzuki Mustafa, who graced the event, said: “The best way to learn English is to go to an English-speaking country. But, because that is impossible for our students, we decided to bring everything that is English to them instead.”

“Even though this is just a one-day event, it is hoped that the interest generated can be sustained for a long time. The momentum can be kept through the classes held by lecturers, too.”

Since its inception in 2013, UKM’s Citra Education has sought to produce knowledgeable and flexible graduates, who are experts in their disciplines and, at the same time, having excellent soft skills.

New students who enrol are required to take up either 30 or 40 credit units of Citra education courses depending on whether they are in professional, or non-professional/ standard programmes.

The Citra Education course is made up of compulsory courses and Citra courses. The compulsory courses encompass those such as Basic Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Islamic and Asian Civilisations, Ethnic Relations and Soft Skills.

Citra University Centre deputy director (Competency), Associate Professor Dr Adi Irfan Che Ani said first-year students were required to choose courses from six domains offered. They are Ethnics, Citizenship and Civilisation, Language, Communication and Literacy, Quantitative and Qualitative, Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Science, Technology and Sustainability, and Family, Health and Lifestyle.

By Hanna Syed Mokhtar.

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Authentic learning resource a boon

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Education pullout sponsorship a much-needed teaching aid for school

WHEN teacher Nor Zalila Hidayu Aman heard that her school was receiving sponsored copies of The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) pullout, she was over the moon.

“It is a blessing to us! We have not had much success with obtaining gadgets and we are not able to supply each student with a laptop. So this sponsorship is a much-needed resource,” said the English department head from SMK Kota Masai 2, Johor.

The school is one of 40 Johor schools benefitting from the PPB Group Berhad sponsorship of the NiE pullout. The sponsorship by the Malaysian diversified conglomerate was made under Star Media Group’s English for Better Opportunities (EBO) project. NiE workshops for teachers and students were also included in this sponsorship to help teachers understand the methodology of using the newspaper as a resource to teach English.

EBO is a multi-level platform aimed at making immersive driven English language programmes interactive, fun and accessible to all levels of society.

Having used the newspaper as a teaching tool before being introduced to NiE, Nor Zalila Hidayu is familiar with the benefits of using this authentic resource.

“Not every student has flipped through an English newspaper. Some do not even know that you can find the comics in the newspaper. NiE exposes them to something new.

“It helps most in building vocabulary. Students write better when they see examples of correctly written sentences. They can see authentic news reports in the newspaper. They also stumble on things that they are curious about and it would prompt them to question things.

“Not many students in this school can converse well in English. They are very shy, but they try. That’s why we organise English programmes.”

The Star-NiE programme, now in its 21st year, has been breathing life into English classroom lessons with engaging, hands-on activities using the newspaper. The colourful, syllabus-based 12-page pullout is written by a team of experienced English language teachers.

NiE was part of an English camp at SMK Kota Masai, Johor. Students enjoyed the engaging and hands-on newspaper activities.

NiE was part of an English camp at SMK Kota Masai, Johor. Students enjoyed the engaging and hands-on newspaper activities.

Last month, SMK Kota Masai 2 hosted an English camp. Two other schools, SMK Tanjung Puteri Resort and SMK Seri Kota Puteri, were also invited to the camp. NiE activities were used as part of the camp acitivities.

“The teachers who attended the earlier NiE workshops (for teachers) were the ones who suggested that we include an NiE session in the English camp.

“Students liked the activities – they were very engaged and happy.

“Seeing how successful the camp was, I said to myself that I should let The Star know. We are very grateful to the sponsors. I would really like to thank them. The NiE workshops for teachers were very helpful – we got ideas of how to use the newspaper in class. “

“The students now look forward to English classes with NiE. They would ask if we are using the newspapers when we have English lessons,” she added.

English teacher Siti Salbiah Salleh, who also attended one of the NiE workshops sponsored by PPB this year, enjoys using NiE in her classes.

“NiE can be fully utilised to enhance a range of language skills. Furthermore, NiE is relatively inexpensive compared to other materials.

“The activities in NiE are designed to promote students’ critical thinking skills. They can be used to empower students to become independent learners.”

She also likes the fact that the newspapers are visually stimulating.

“They contain a lot of pictures to encapsulate a vast range of topics. It can also be used to target different learning styles, As a result, learning becomes more interesting, meaningful and motivating for the learners. Students are able to learn real language in context as it aids students in developing a solid language base.”

Form Two student Fara Nurumairah Kamaruzzaman said she finds that the newspaper has a lot of news and information to offer.

“The newspaper has pictures of the situation, which makes me understand the issue better.”

She also liked the fact that NiE encourages group work.

“I like working in groups because I can share my opinions and thoughts. The lesson is more exciting than when studying alone. Study groups encourage us to learn new skills and gain new perspectives.

“Besides that, NiE helps me improve my English by introducing new words to me. With better vocabulary, I can create better essays.”

Student Syed Muhammad Azriel Syed Faizal, 14, said that NiE encourages him to read.

“I never knew that the newspaper can also be useful for learning! I like using NiE in English lessons.

“For me, learning with NiE is different from learning with the textbook. This is because the NiE pullout is more exciting and it has a lot of colourful pictures. The newspaper is also updated and shows different things every day.”

Form One student Priyalatha Setha said that NiE encourages her to read the newspaper.

“I was afraid to read English newspapers at first, but now I like reading them because they have many interesting sections. By reading more, I can improve my vocabulary as well as writing in English.

By Emily Chan
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